FURIOUS LOVE – ELIZABETH TAYLOR & RICHARD BURTON: THE MARRIAGE OF THE CENTURY
BY SAM KASHNER & NANCY SCHOENBERGER
Until recently, what I knew of Elizabeth Taylor was that she had been married 8 times to 7 men and had been close to my childhood idol Michael Jackson. What I knew of Richard Burton was that he was Welsh, a great actor and a drunk. But my interest in this ultimate celebrity couple was only properly sparked earlier this year by articles I read in magazines and Sunday supplements and then from a film made for BBC4 starring Dominic West and Helena Bonham-Carter as Burton and Taylor.
Furious Love is a great title for this book as that is exactly what their relationship was. The authors invite us to take up front row seats to the raging arguments between them and the gloriously lusty make-ups later. The now legendary movies, jewels, costumes, drink and far flung exotic locations make this an exciting, rich biography of the pair.
They had met in Rome in 1962 on the set of Cleopatra. Richard a great stage actor and notorious womaniser from Pontrhydyfen, Elizabeth a former child star and now leading lady. Both were already married but soon they fell into a wild affair with each other – this became known as Le Scandale and shook the entertainment world.
In this book, Kashner and Schoenberger drew on diaries, love letters, eye-witness accounts and recollections from their friends, colleagues and entourage. From these we see how together they made some of the best films of the 1960s and caused controversy and pandemonium amongst the paparazzi and their adoring fans wherever they went.
And they went everywhere! Working on films, together and apart, on both sides of the Atlantic and sailing on their yacht, the Kalizma, calling at such glamorous ports of call as Monte Carlo and Portofino. They also moved continuously between their homes in London, Gstaad, Celigny and Puerto Vallenta. Burton lavished his Elizabeth with all the jewels she craved and her beautiful looks alongside his rugged handsomeness ensured they were the most photographed couple in the world.
They commanded multi-million dollar sums from studios to appear in their movies. Some were great, some were bad but at that time they were always a smash at the box office. Elizabeth said later: “Everyone bought tickets to watch Liz and Dick and we gave them what they wanted.” But for them that didn’t just mean their film roles but the rollercoaster of their love life – fighting and then making up, and all very public.
The pressure to live up to the “Liz and Dick Show” concocted by the press as an exaggeration of their lives, became too much. Elizabeth suffered from numerous health complaints, fluctuating weight, addiction to prescription drugs and more or less drank solidly throughout each day. Richard was being eaten away by guilt at leaving his wife and children for Elizabeth and got through 3 bottles of vodka a day himself!
They would go on to split and reconcile many times over the coming years. Even when living with new partners, Burton and Taylor would constantly remain in touch over the telephone and through the letters they sent each other across the world. Burton wrote to Elizabeth after one such split, “God’s eye may be on the sparrow, but my eye will always be on you.”
The real jewels in Furious Love aren’t the ones dazzling on Elizabeth’s hand or round her neck, but the love letters she received from Richard throughout their relationship and indeed afterwards. It’s staggering that he could write so poetically, romantically and dramatically to her when he was utterly sloshed on vodka. “The precious potential of you in the next room is the only thing worth living for. After your death there shall only be one other and that will be mine.”
Richard was to go first though. He died in 1984 aged 58 after collapsing with a brain haemorrhage. Elizabeth was barred from his funeral and subsequent memorial service held in his hometown by his then wife Sally Burton. Elizabeth married twice more after Burton to John Warner and Larry Fortensky although Richard remained the only true love of her life. “After Richard, the men in my life were just there to hold the coat, to open the door. After Richard, they were just company.”
Elizabeth lived on to the age of 79 when she died in 2011 in Los Angeles of heart failure.
Furious Love is a tremendous biography. Thoroughly and lovingly researched. I particularly enjoyed how the authors lingered on the beautiful language Burton used in speech (when not fighting with Elizabeth!) and in the written word. This, for me, shone through brighter than their beauty and their riches. These letters showed us that they really could not live with each other or ultimately without each other.
A true, furious love story
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 9.5/10